The Bookbyte Blog
Is Free Community College a Pipe Dream?
The following was written by Joey Gomez, a contributing writer for The Collective Report, Truthout.org, and other sites. He can be reached on Twitter at @homerjoey.
After getting backlash from both Democrats and Republicans to Obama's 529 tax plan that would tax college savings -- a luxury that's attributed to the wealthier class -- Obama has decided to scrap the plan that would help the lower and middle-income students pay for college.
It's been recently reported that the 529 tax plan on college savings would have an impact not only on the wealthy, but also the middle and lower classes, seeing as there is a small percentage of people with middle-lower income that use the college savings. But to drop a policy altogether and abandon opportunities that could initially lessen the burden of paying for college is disappointing.
It's curious why the 529 tax plan could not have been altered to tax those that earn an annual salary over the $200,000 mark, while keeping those under $200,000 free of the tax burden. Whether Obama gave up too quickly on a program that would be an uphill battle or he simply dropped it at the slightest challenge doesn't matter. What matters is that access to college education is becoming more and more difficult and if we don't look for solutions that can help the middle and lower classes with opportunities to go to college, it will put further strain on our economy and society.
And while this tax plan is dead, the free community college plan isn't ready to be buried yet. There are many ways we can find funding for such programs. And we need to be serious about finding ways to lower the cost for students as we continue to witness the raising tuition costs and the high dropout rate students are facing because of a proper lack of funding. According to a Harvard study, "Among 18 countries tracked by the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], the United States finished last (46 percent) for the percentage of students who completed college once they started it. That puts the United States behind Japan (89 percent), and former Soviet-bloc states such as Slovakia (63 percent) and Poland (61 percent)." Providing an equal opportunity for all students to have access to college without the burden of living in debt for the rest of their life is beneficial to society as a whole.
It's important to keep in mind that institutions like community college were created out of the idea of making college more accessible to the middle class and creating an easier transition to afford transferring to a four-year institution. Tennessee recently passed a bill that will provide tuition-free community college for its citizens starting this fall. Other countries have successfully maintained a tuition-free college for its citizens for decades.California created a tuition-free program at one time that was very successful. With positive examples such as these, it makes the idea of free community college for everyone seem attainable.